August is becoming my favorite summer month.
When I just succumb to the heat and the laziness it intended and say ‘No’ to everything people ask me to do. The thick salt air is like an intoxicating elixir, swallowing me up. I’m nature’s toy– take me as I am and where the wind blows.
But the wind doesn’t blow. It rests too. So, even though I am overheating, I get to stay home in my sweaty nest.
I look at my children. Two girls. Two souls. Two futures. And I feel the weight of it all. My head feels heavy. Sometimes I have to sleep or swim. We are so fragile and so thick. My children could swallow me whole. I have doubted just about everything I’ve done since they’ve arrived except for having them.
I pick at my nails. My toes. My cuticle beds. Anything to break off a piece of me that feels sick. It’s not a way to heal.
I was here.
My neighbors see different sides of me. The ones in the front see me at my worst: late, impatient. Someone is always crying on the way to or from the car. The neighbors to the rear hear me: soft and engaged. Teaching about leaves or birds or how everyone makes mistakes. “It’s ok. Accidents happen,” carried so sweetly from my lips on the air past their windows, perhaps, on the late afternoon wheeze of August.
I was here.
I leave traces of myself everywhere. Notes on a page. Toys organized in neat muslin bags. Sand on the floor of my father’s garage that is never as tidy as he’d like because of me. We don’t want to be forgotten. We leave our marks on everything: tiny pencils with teeth marks. I was here. My father hates tattoos and I’ve never wanted one anyways. I leave my mark on other things.
The ocean in the summer draws me in. I spy chocolate in my pantry and feel the same way. I just have to have some.
I was here.
I told Scott I flipped someone off the other day and he laughed and said, “You need to tone it down”. I laughed and said, “How do you know?”
I was here.
Poland. If I had been asked to describe Poland in a word before I left, I’d have been torn between “postwarish” and “cloudy”. After visiting it I would choose between, “charming” and “preserved”. Like they got it right a while ago and didn’t change much, at least in terms of structure, culture and lifestyle. If I could elaborate more, I would mention this sheep’s cheese they pressed into many different shapes that was very stinky and everywhere. Poland is a perfect place to make memories with friends who have always made you feel safe out of your comfort zone.
Scott, the kids and I, along with three other families we’ve known since college, were there for Basia and Phil’s wedding. Basia and Phil are Polish-Americans, born and raised in the U.S., but who met in Poland in the summer of 2005 during a study abroad program. My college friends and I had known we were going there for their wedding for almost 13 years. Despite this very advanced warning, anxiety found me anyways.
As with all trips for me, the build up was where all the angst embedded itself. Like a squatter trying to claim my body for its own.
When we first arrived to the airport I stood in the doorway of the overpacked Tom Bradly International Terminal at LAX and said calmly, “I’m not going”.
I don’t remember what Scott said, but it was something you would expect such as “Devon” or “Come on” or “Anyways…” It didn’t help that our seven minute shuttle from the parking garage to the airport involved the baby crying and crackers being hailed all over the floor while another couple reassured us that we would gain weight from the starchy food and finally recover from jet lag just in time for our return flight.
We made it through security, which to me is the second most stressful part of traveling after the actual flight. You know. You arrive with everything neatly organized. A passport wallet, maybe some snacks divided evenly, your shoes tied like Mr. Roger’s, your computer strategically separated from the hand sanitizer, only to dump it all into a series of moving buckets that disappear into a black hole while a bunch of people, who probably have the authority to arrest you, watch.
On the flight there I said two things that pretty much summed up the experience of traveling 14 hours with children:
- “I hate everything”
- “I’m so giddy!”
We arrived. We put our things down. We found alcohol. The pigeons in the square became toys for our children and our shoulders found an unfamiliar resting position.
I tried to be easier on myself abroad than I am at home. There has to be such thing as vacation for parents, for God’s sake. When that NyQuil commercial says that moms don’t get sick days I always want to say, “Fuck you!”
We were doing enough hard stuff already so I was ok with hitting the easy buttons that presented themselves: snacks, iPads, champagne, helping hands. Poland was, extremely kid friendly. We were offered balloons at breakfast, wooden toys and coloring books at dinner. Our second hotel even had a playroom complete with a ball pit!
Four main things helped over the course of almost 10 days:
- Packing light.
- Low expectations.
Before we left, I probably had the most anxiety about sleep, and this is where the melatonin and low expectations came in. I won’t go into detail about the hours each family member slept each night, but it was better than I thought. Some nights we all slept all the way through, some nights we were up doing deep squats with a ten month old in the shawdows of the bathroom light. We made up for any lost sleep during nap time and, even if we didn’t, we fed off the energy of being somewhere new with friends. Everyone told us that jet lag coming home was worse than going there, but after a long, long flight home, everyone slept the whole first night until maybe 5:30 a.m. and we fell back into our normal routine in less than three days.
Our kids are on a fairly consistent schedule at home, so we try to reestablish this when we aren’t. Our days generally take the pattern: wake, eat, nap (for baby), play, both kids nap, play, dinner, bath, bed. Getting hung up on times and lengths of naps and sleep has cost me more energy than it is ever worth while traveling, so we tried to loosely find this pattern when we could. Some naps were in laps, cars and planes. One night I woke our toddler up just so she could see fireworks. Kids can be on vacation too.
Something true is, before we left, I felt like I was a better mother closer to home and all my designed comforts. I get deceived thinking, over and over again, that I am my best self when surrounded by the illusion that I am in control. Being stripped of all of that comfort was a reckoning I was subconsciously asking for. I wanted to face the fear I have that turning our schedule on its head and leaving even diapers behind isn’t that scary. I was forced to rediscover myself as a mother without my comforts and there was such a wild release about that. I don’t know why it is always so scary to embrace the self I really want to be.
When we are home, our roots sink and cling and clench, but when we detach them we realize what we’re really capable of which is always so much more than we thought.
Safe travels, wild hearts. It will all be a beautiful memory soon.
Travel “Gadgets” (hate that word, but it might be the best to describe the following)
+ I don’t think there is a way to fly stress free, unless you happen to have already died and are, in that case, perhaps traveling in a body bag. However, since I am a first born child and delight in giving advice I’d like to mention that I love traveling with the Solly Baby Wrap and Ergo Carrier, wearing versatile, comfortable sandals, not wearing a jacket on the airplane (I am always sweating with kids in this setting), not bringing a diaper changing pad or a nursing cover or any other ‘extras’. We let The Bug (age three at the time) walk next to us without holding hands when it wasn’t too busy or dangerous. We let her watch shows on an iPad. We let her eat just about anything the flight attendants threw at us. On this trip, we gave both of our kids Benadryl for the flights. The biggest win (aside from 16 hours of Mr. Rogers and Caillou) was actually an iPad coloring app accompanied by a digital pen. We all used this at various times during the 14 hour first leg. We also opted for this MiFold Go Car Booster instead of bringing a bulky toddler seat. For the baby, we brought our own carseat.
+ Another win was the Flypal seat cushion we bought for the plane so The Bug could stick her legs all the way out and recline to sleep. It totally worked, but I can’t recommend it without passing on the guilt that I had after our purchase: it will probably biodegrade a few decades after our trip is over. The Bird (age 10 months at the time) hated the provided travel bassinet that hooked to the bulkhead and slept on my chest, changing positions every time I finally fell asleep.
+ Although our three year old sleeps in a “big girl” bed at home, she and the baby both slept in separate Pack ‘N Plays provided by the hotels we stayed in. We didn’t bring pillows or anything extra for either of them to save suitcase space and just made due, but being that the hotels were so kid friendly they provided blankets and pillows for both.
+We purchased diapers and wipes once we were there–packing only enough to get us through the first few days. It wasn’t as easy as I had hoped to find diapers in a foreign city, but we eventually did and the adventure of getting them was a story in itself.
Last week, my family and I, as well as a group of my college girlfriends and their families, traveled to southern Poland to celebrate the marriage of Basia and Phil. I have documented my relationship and travels with my best friend Basia and her new husband Phil in this space over the years so I thought I would share the bridesmaid speech I gave at their wedding last Saturday, July 14th in Czarny Dunajec, Poland.
Hi. My name is Devon. I like falling asleep at the beach, salad dressings with soy sauce in them and Friends reruns. If my mom hadn’t conned me into going to school in San Diego, just an hour away from where I grew up, I wouldn’t have met my husband. I also wouldn’t have met my best friend. Luckily she and the rest of us, self-titled “The Case Girls”, like the same things. We met in dorm rooms, with towels in our hair, and vodka in our juices. We had Sociology 101 together, or French. These classes and, more importantly, what went on outside of them, might as well have been called “Welcome to Life”. We learned to play flip cup together, and maybe frisbee. We learned about relationships and doing the dishes (Basia didn’t know you were supposed use hot water until the end of sophomore year!). We learned to live together. To celebrate. To embrace after a fight, a tragedy, to brainstorm sorority skits, and living room decor. To figure out how to get the red wine out of the rug.
Things everybody knows about Basia:
She is Polish.
She has good posture.
She is good at computer programming, but bad at computers.
Things only her friends know about Basia:
Sometimes she wears old spice deodorant.
She takes 75 minute showers, but can’t stand wasting water.
She can back a Toyota carolla into a 10 X 5 ft. parking space.
She can sleep through any alarm.
Basia and I, and The Case Girls, have known each other for 15 years. Through finals, and breakups, and car accidents. Through new jobs and new homes and moving in with partners and away from each other. But the Case Girls carry on, falling off a Beach Cruiser one minute, and lifting each other the next. As friends do.
Basia asked me a few weeks ago to make a speech at the wedding. I tried to write a toast about our friendship, but I couldn’t find the words.
Each time it started out:
And then I thought about it so much that I started thinking “Dear Basia” was possibly all I needed to say about her, because isn’t she so dear?
The thing about my friendship with Basia is we can be ourselves with each other in the quiet. In the pauses. In the forest. And there’s always something comforting about that to me when I’m actually alone.
There is something I tell my daughters over and over again when they have a bad dream or can’t sleep: “It’s ok, you’re safe…” and that’s always how Basia has made me feel. In a school not so far, but just far enough, from home. In a busy party full of strangers, in my first real relationship, in a massive forest in a storm.
Friends are like a flock of birds flying together, weather be damned. We love each other, protect each other, hold each other fervently, even from far away. We find each other, again and again. To embrace, to celebrate, to cry, to hold on to what we’ve built, who we’ve become together and apart. To laugh at whoever forgot their dignity at home.
Phil isn’t an official Case Girl, but he’s a friend of every single one of us.
I met Phil about 13 years ago. I remember him asking if it was bad that his car was made by the same manufacturer as the tv in The Case Girls’ living room.
Over the years we have met again and again in snow and trees, in the desert and on deserted Mexican coastlines. I love every version of Phil I’ve ever met through the years. He is a caregiver, a father by nature, the only person I know who could adapt to forgetting to bring ski pants and a jacket to the mountains in January. He always puts Basia first anyways.
Phil makes Basia feel safe.
Birthdays are bittersweet for me because they celebrate the joy of living in the midst of letting go.
The second year of life comes with a lot of hype. “Terrible” and filled with “nos”. It was that some of the time, but I really enjoyed you being two.
There’s lots to be said about kids growing quickly and long days, but short years. I don’t necessarily want to add to the clatter of it all; the guilt that rises because of something we can’t control. Life is such a slippery thing. You can never quite get the hang of it or ahold of it.
I don’t want to focus on what isn’t though. I want this note to say, more than anything else, that you’re one of the best things I’ve ever been lucky enough to celebrate and all the days since you got here have seemed more like a special occasion than anything else. Thanks for hanging around next to me and needing me. Thanks for all those hugs.
Happy third birthday, Sprout.
I love you always.